STUDENTS have come face to face with the potential perils of social media in a series of hard-hitting workshops designed to keep them safe.

Cyber safety experts spent the day at Darlington School of Mathematics and Science (DSMS) highlighting the potentially negative physical, social and psychological consequences of using the internet.

About 120 Year 8 students were introduced to Andrea Jennings and David Duckling, of Harbour Support Services, an organisation that works in Darlington providing outreach programmes for the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.

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They also worked with Durham Police cohesion officer Chris O’Brien and town centre beat officer Alice Turner looking at the impact of hate crimes.

Durham Police neighbourhood policing team officer Kathryn Davies and beat officer David Gibson delivered the third workshop addressing inappropriate use of social media including sexting and how easy it was to fall foul of the law.

Cyber safety is a particularly poignant issue in Darlington, following the death of teenager Ashleigh Hall, who was murdered in 2009 by a man she met online.

DSMS assistant head teacher Emma Hickerson said: “As a resource the internet is as incredible as it is dangerous and it is vital our young people know how to use it appropriately.

“They live in a cyber-world and the speed of technological development is breath-taking. We have to make sure they are fully equipped to maximise the incredible benefits of the internet but also stay safe from the many pitfalls.”

Mr Duckling explained that domestic violence could be physical, emotional, financial and sexual. It affected men, women and children and Harbour was there to support victims and work with perpetrators.

Students heard that hate crimes often turned prejudice and discrimination into persecution, hatred and destruction when society should be celebrating diversity.

PCSO Gibson stressed the importance of young people keeping their online profiles private.

“Older people often befriend younger people on the internet to exert control over them,” he said. “Often in chat rooms people are not who they say they are and could be paedophiles so you need to be 100 per cent sure of who you are talking to.

“The impact on young people’s lives can be huge and it also affects their families and friends.”

He urged students to either click the CEOP button on their computer if they had concerns or approach an adult they could trust.

He warned that inappropriate images, even when they were taken as a joke, were likely break the law and anyone who sent them could find themselves charged with distributing indecent images.

Students were also shown poignant videos covering a variety of cyber safety issues and hate crime scenarios.